“Has your water bag broken?”

“No, nothing.”

“Have you voided recently?”

The girl looks embarrassed. “You mean tinkled?”

“Yes, urinated or defecated. Where do you usually go? Do you have an indoor water closet?”

“Oh, yes. Simon had it built when we first married. He is so good to me.”

“Why don’t you go down the hall and see if you can tinkle while I change the linens. It’s not good to labor with a full bladder, makes it hurt more too.” Here she stops for a minute to do her huffing and I glance at my watch. The contractions are every four minutes.

Grateful I thought to bring Dr. Blum’s delivery pack in my nurse’s bag, I quickly lay out what I think Patience will need while Dahlila goes down the hall to the bathroom. “Mr. Markey,” I yell down the stairs. “Do you have hot water and sterilized linens? I want to get every thing ready.” No answer. “Mr. Markey?”

Tarnation! Where is he?

Two doors away, I can still hear the laboring mother breathing through her contractions. “Stay right there on the commode, Dahlila. I have to be sure we have warm water and a few other things.”

“Mmmmmm,” the girl says.

Solo

It takes two trips up and down the stairs, but at last I’m back in the bedroom with a pot of hot water and the bundle of sterilized sheets and rags that Dahlila must have fixed up.

“You okay?” I yell in her direction, though I figure she is, since she’s no longer screaming.

“Mmmmmmmmmmm,” she says again.

There’s nothing like the efficiency of a nurse, and within minutes the bed is prepared, padded, and ready. I check the cradle in the corner and open the curtains, hoping to catch sight of Patience speeding this way, but there are just the green peaceful fields. Simon and Dr. Blum are nowhere in sight. Maybe it’s better that way.

Just then, it comes to me that I haven’t yet checked the fetal heartbeat, which is actually the first thing I should have done, so I dig out my stethoscope and hurry down the hall to escort Dahlila back to the bedroom. I’m alarmed when I get there to see her leaning over the sink, her fingers gripping the porcelain.

“Come on, Dahlila, let’s get you back in bed.” I half pull her down the hall to the bedroom, but before she can climb back into the four-poster, she has another contraction and gets down on her hands and knees on the floor. “Oh no, that’s not the way! Look, I’ve made the clean sheets all nice for you, and I need to check the baby’s heart. . . . Honey!” Dahlila rotates her hips in a strange, erotic way.

“Mmmmmmmmm!” she groans.

“Honey . . . ?” Then her water bursts and all hell breaks loose.

“It’s coming!” she gasps.

My stomach gives a lurch. Patience really isn’t going to get here in time!

“Dahlila, try panting. I need you in bed so I can see what’s happening, okay? Dahlila!” I insist. “I really need you in the bed.”

“Can’t!” She’s down to one-word replies. “Mmmmmmmmm!” I picture the baby’s head descending.

There’s nothing else for it, I must get down on the floor to look.

“Pant, Dahlila. Pant!” I make my voice strong like Patience’s and pull on my sterilized rubber gloves. “The midwife should be here any minute. You can do it. Let me see where the head is.” It better be a head. If not, we’re in very big trouble.

“Mmmmmmmmm,” the mother groans again and I’m relieved when I see a nice hairy orb.

Again, I try to think what Patience would do. I want to wait for her to get here, but I still haven’t checked the fetal heartbeat, and the stethoscope is back in the bathroom where I dropped it next to the sink.

Maybe it’s better to get the baby out and not fool with listening to the heartbeat. (Better a live baby than a heart rate to write in my nurse’s notes.)

“Dahlila, look at me. I need you to listen and do exactly what I say.” I try to sound firm and hold her green eyes with my brown ones, but I’m pretty sure my voice is shaking. “When you feel an urge to push go with it. If it stings, stop for a minute and pant. Pant and let your opening stretch. It’s going to burn like fire for five or ten minutes and then it will be over and you will have your baby.”

“Oh, I can’t. I can’t!”

“Yes, you can! We can do this together.” This is said with much more confidence than I feel.

I have no oil like Patience uses, so instead I dip one of my sterilized rags in the pot of warm water and hold it against the young woman’s vagina. I’m just going on instinct here, hoping it might help her stretch.

“MMMMMMMMMMMMM!”

“Slow it down, honey . . . the head’s almost out.” “Hard times. Hard times,” the radio booms.

“Oh! Ow! Ow!” Dahlila cries.

“One more little push.” There’s no time for keeping the head flexed the way Patience does, or maneuvering the shoulders like Dr. Blum does, and maybe it’s just as well, because with the woman on her hands and knees, I probably wouldn’t do it right anyway. With the next push, the whole baby rotates and falls into my lap.

“I did it!” Dahlila cries, and the baby boy, startled to be here, cries with her. Downstairs, the front door flies open.

“Everyone okay up there?” It’s Patience and Simon.

“You okay, babe?” That’s the father.

“You okay, Becky?” That’s Patience, and on the radio we have a new song. “New day’s comin’, As sure as you’re born! There’s a new day comin’, Start tootin’ your horn . . .”

Now Dahlila and I are both laughing. Laughter just bubbles up. I sit back against the bedstead, still on the floor, covered with blood and amniotic fluid. Dahlila’s eyes meet mine in joyful hysteria and I bite my lip to get control. This makes us laugh all the harder. Finally, I clear my throat.

“Everything’s fine. Patience, you can come up, but please wait a few moments, Mr. Markey.”

Ten minutes later the placenta is out and Patience has stitched a few tiny tears. Some women, she tells me, are built better for childbirth than others, but if you’re careful and let the head deliver slowly most won’t have more than a few skid marks. Finally, we get the new mother between the clean sheets. We wash her face and hands and give her the baby, now wrapped snug in the sterilized blanket. Mr. Markey doesn’t wait for permission. He bounds up the stairs.

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